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Yellow Springs High School Theatre Arts Association board members are shown with props from Urinetown, Guys & Dolls, Big River and other past productions. In the back row, from left, are Laurie Dewey, Sheila Miller, Daniele Norman and Georgia Solomon; middle row, Mary Beth Burkholder, Moira Laughlin, Debbie Henderson; front row, Jerome Borchers. Board members not pictured are Libby Rudolf, Kelley Callahan and Kathleen Krehbiel. (photo by Megan Bachman)

Group keeps theater arts going

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When a new pit orchestra conductor was needed three weeks before the opening of last spring’s high school musical, the Yellow Springs High School Theatre Arts Association, or YSHSTAA, scrambled to find one. When concerns about censorship of student-written plays arose, the YSHSTAA organized public meetings and advocated for students’ freedom of expression.

The group works each year behind the scenes to produce a spring musical, fall play and student-written One Acts at the high school. And facing the challenge of the school board’s recent cuts to this year’s theater budget, the volunteer organization of parents and community members now looks to raise more money from the community to keep the high school theater program strong.

“We feel we can continue with a quality program — we don’t want to do anything less,” said YSHSTAA board member Jerome Borchers. “I think the community will come forward.”

The school board last month approved eliminating a $1,606 stipend scheduled for this fall’s play director, Sarah Elder, and a $749 stipend for One Acts coordinator Jess Shake. Drama club advisor Mary Beth Burkholder, paid $585 last school year, had a stipend for this school year eliminated as well.

Though Burkholder, who is also the president of the YSHSTAA, plans to volunteer her time, the group will raise money from ticket sales, program advertisements and fundraising events to keep the stipends for Elder and Shake. In total, they need to raise an additional $2,355 from the community this year, some of which may come from the approximately $9,000 in the Drama Club’s revolving operating fund.

“Even with the stipends, what directors are paid is very modest and we feel very appreciative that incredible directors have been able to work for little pay,” Burkholder said.

The school budget will continue to fund the spring musical this year with stipends of $2,409 to Jeff Murphy, director and choreographer, $1,927 to Susan Carlock, musical assistant director, and $749 to musical technical advisor Brian Carlson.

At a meeting in August between YSHSTAA board members and incoming Superintendent Mario Basora, Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh and High School/McKinney School Principal Tim Krier, the group recommended which stipends be cut if cuts were necessary.

“In a time when we’ve experienced declines in state and local funding, these kinds of partnerships will be central to maintain the many co-curricular activities we offer to our students so programming is not affected,” said School Board President Sean Creighton of the collaboration between the high school and the YSHSTAA.

Though the YSHSTAA was disappointed with the loss of stipends, they felt the school board was willing to work with them to ensure a high quality theater program.

“I feel the new administration has a pretty strong commitment to supporting the theater program in the high school and making sure it continues,” Burkholder said. “They have a strong appreciation of the arts.”

Over the last several years, the YSHSTAA has worked to trim its own costs, asking students to pay some of the costs to attend thespian conferences, arranging volunteer help on costumes and sets, soliciting program advertisements from local merchants and organizations and encouraging the production of plays available in the public domain. In addition, the group purchased, with community donations, professional lighting equipment for $2,500 to save in annual rental costs.

“We are in a much better place because of the generosity of the community towards establishing lighting,” Borchers said.

Other community support has come from YSHSTAA’s 11 volunteer board members, from volunteer pit orchestra musicians and local theater professionals who have taught workshops on playwriting, auditioning and stage combat and from those who attend a play or take part in the annual curtain warmer fundraising event before the spring musical.

“Many people have worked hard for this little high school to have such a great program,” Burkholder said.

In addition to the community’s support, YSHSTAA board members attribute the quality of the productions to strong developmental programs like the Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse and bi-annual Mills Lawn musical, great directors and a continuous crop of talented, hard-working students.

Also critical to the theater program’s success is the YSHSTAA itself, which assists in director hiring, secures dates and venues for plays, publicizes productions, builds sets, procures props, prepares costumes, puts together the orchestra, produces programs, staffs the box office, sells concessions, recruits volunteers and, in addition, lessens the burden for paid staff and the school. And when something inevitably goes awry, it is the YSHSTAA that steps up.

“It’s not called drama for nothing,” Burkholder said.

Both the YSHSTAA and the school agree that a strong theater program is vital to the high school. By participating in the cast or crew, students increase their confidence and problem-solving skills and learn the importance of commitment and hard work, YSHSTAA leaders said.

“Our theater arts program contributes significantly to the intellectual, social and personal development of our students,” Creighton said. “On a personal level, it engages students in a different approach to learning by really creating a connection between the text and performance.”

In addition, by writing, directing and acting in their own plays in the One Acts, students can explore, in their own voice, issues important to them and consider their work’s impact on the audience.

“In dealing with issues of their plays being censored, it’s a learning experience for them to think about how what they’ve written will affect people,” Burkholder said. “The YSHSTAA is supportive of them to have as much freedom of expression as they can within a school setting.”

An upcoming opportunity to support the theater program is the high school’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, which opens the weekend of Nov. 12–14 and continues the weekend of Nov. 19–21 with shows on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m.

For those wishing to volunteer or join the YSHSTAA board, contact Burkholder at 767-2602. To purchase a program advertisement, call Debbie Henderson at 767-7766. For more information on the upcoming play, visit .

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